Cremation, Burial, Whole Body Donation: Who Can Decide?
The right to control the remains of a dead human body, including the location and conditions of final disposition, vests in the people listed below, in order of priority, unless other directions have been given pursuant to the decedent’s valid Will or Advanced Directive:
- The agent(s) listed in the decedent’s Health Care Directive, or appointed in a dated written instrument signed by the decedent, pursuant to Minnesota Chapter 145C.
- The decedent’s spouse.
- The decedent’s adult child or the majority of the decedent’s adult children.
- The decedent’s surviving parent(s) (each parent has equal authority).
- The decedent’s adult sibling or the majority of the decedent’s adult siblings.
- The decedent’s adult grandchild or the majority of the decedent’s adult grandchildren.
- The decedent’s grandparent(s) (each grandparent having equal authority).
- The decedent’s adult nieces and nephews of the decedent, or a majority of them.
- The decedent’s guardian(s) who were acting with authority to make health care decisions for the decedent at the time of death.
- An adult who exhibited special care and concern for the decedent.
- Next of kin, in the order named by law to inherit the estate of the decedent according to the laws of intestate succession.
- The appropriate public or court authority, as required by law.
See Minn. Stat. § 149A.80, Subd. 2.
The priority for right to control disposition listed above does not dictate who receives the cremated remains. Subject to Minnesota Statutes 149A.95, subdivisions 16 through 19, inurnment of cremains and release to the appropriate party (listed on the cremation authorization) is considered final disposition and no further permits or authorizations are required for disinterment, transportation, or placement of the cremated remains.
See Minn. Stat. § 149A.96, Subd. 9.
Is Embalming Required?
No. In Minnesota, embalming of human remains is not required unless:
- The body will be shipped by common carrier/public transportation.
- There will be a public viewing.
- Final disposition (alkaline hydrolysis, burial, or cremation) will take place more than 72 hours after death.
- Death was due to an infectious disease, as ordered by the Commission of Health.
See Minn. Stat. § 149A.91, Subd. 3.
Whole Body Donation
A person may choose whole body donation. Whole body donation is a form of non-transplant anatomical donation made under the Darlene Luther Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (Minnesota Statutes Chapter 525A). There are two places in Minnesota that accept whole body donations: Mayo Clinic and University of Minnesota Medical School. Both prefer that the person signs up before the death occurs, so arrangements can be made immediately after death to pick up the body and transport to the facility. It is also beneficial to include decisions about whole body donation on a person’s Health Care Directive.
After approximately 18 months (depending on the program), the donated human remains are cremated and either buried in an ossuary or returned to the decedent’s family. The University of Minnesota Medical School has an annual memorial service for all body donors that family members can attend.